Tag Archives: Holy Innocents Day.


Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station: LETTER to IDA HIBBETT, 95 Foden Rd, Walsall. (Censor 934  J.C. Fitzgerald) (1).

Cavell imgres (2)

The Innocents’ Day (2) Dec 28/ 15

I must have no hatred or bitterness                                        towards anyone’. Miss E. Cavell. (3)

.Champion Ida Hibbett VAD Nurse.

My Dear Sister Ida,

Dreams. Yes I’m on dreams again.  I hope you don’t think it is a sentimental, sloppy beginning to my letter to you on your birthday, but do dreams come true to a certain extent?  I think so.

I have had such a happy surprise tonight, which not only caused me to write to you after all today (I was thinking of waiting till New Year’s Eve for my vocabulary was exhausted) but itbroke my dreamof one night last week.  I was washing up in the kitchen of the Ward – ‘Hibbett’ – I scooted to the caller, thinking he wanted either to dress my foot or order me for something – ’What Regiment are you in?’  I told  him,  forthwith a chap by him handed me a letter – from England – from Sydney. I have never expected a letter or anything while I have been here & I was indeed bemoaning my disadvantage in this way only this afternoon, thinking when I should hear from Mum again & if Mum had been writing in vain to me while I am here. Of course I read the letter with deep interest & looked out to see if he had seen you all yet.

Now to explain matters on the subject of dreams, (I must ‘perforce’ enclose Sydney’s letter, otherwise I should not send you all of it, if not at all, for there is something in – which is personal) I can remember that ‘particular’ part of the dream quite plainly now.  You, Ida, were very cross with me for some reason & I ran away & after some time the dream changed & a nurse came to me & said something to the effect that Sydney was much better, or such news that I was overjoyed & all of you (Mum I could see) were also delightedThe scene in the dream then became faint & I cannot tell you anymore for fear I encroach upon untruths or a ‘make-up story’.

Now just compare my dream with Sydney’s letter. I did not tumble across it, that my dream was ‘broken’ until after, when my thoughts were about his letter & Sydney himself.  1st he said – ‘A few of us went for another walk – round the country lanes’. In my dream I was in the country & I ran up to a pump when a nurse & some other people (came), I believe Mother & Basil were among them, but the nurse with glasses & smiling face was most prominent for she was the bearer of the good news.  Before I go any further I must say that the weather in my dream was sunny & bright green fields fresh

Notice next that Sydney saisI am almost entirely recovered’. Perhaps the nurse in my dream said those very words, they were certainly to that effect, for Mum & Ida & all of you were so glad & I was in ecstasy.  ‘A nurse always goes with us & any sergeant with the party’  –  I saw a party in my dream & a nurse, but I did not see Sydney.  Sydney seemed to be somewhere else in my dream.  I felt, just as I feel now, with regard to where Sydney was in my dream – out of it.

The climax or the points that broke my dream was Sydney mentioning I am almost entirely recovered’ & ‘a nurse goes with us and a party’.

Have you ever read that striking article in the London Magazine about the Transmission of the Mind (4)?  Am I superstitious, I hope you don’t think I am, but I believe, to a certain extent, through thinking about other people, especially those dear to you (we speak of one dear & near to another) one’s thoughts carry themselves into their dreams.  It is all to do with the mind.  And then again I say I don’t believe in superstition and I often ignore all such tomfoolery & go slap bang into a supposed superstition – say if it is walking under a ladder or crossing knives – I absolutely ignore it, & when I do that, I find nothing whatever happens afterwards, as would be foretold by a superstitious believer. 

I say, if I don’t believe in superstition, the case must be one in which Providence was with me.

I believe in Angels, & I much admired what Mum has said in her letters to me referring to angels. I believe that an angel was with me whenever I dreamt of you all at Home.  Now believing in angels is not superstitious.  ‘I believe in the Communion of Saints’ (5) we say, well then, those relatives & friends we loved while on earth, are they not communicating with us?  – & trying to keep us happy & acting as God’s Messengers?

Although Sydney ran a great risk of having his letter mislaid, it has wrought a happy result & broke my spell of melancholia , which I had slightly this afternoon, owing to the reaction  –  it is so quiet here sometimes & strangers about I  looked at your photo of you sitting on a camp chair with a book on your lap outside the Study window & tried to think of all your good advice.

I trust you have had a Happy Birthday. I went to Holy Communion this morning & a lot of RAMC patients were there consideringWe went to pray for the wounded that came in on Monday evening.  I asked one of the casualties what sort of time he had on Christmas day in the trenches & he said ‘we had nothing, but we went over the top to shake hands with the enemy’a fact confirmed by the Chaplain when he came round with the cigs that night.  The British were the first to go over & the 1st to resume fighting.  The enemy also came over to play their band. Do you blame our side?  I don’t,  so far as shaking hands goes, for what does the Collect for St Stephen’s Day say? (6).

Well I dare say you will get this letter early enough to wish you all again a Very Happy New Year.  I shall see you all in God’s good time. 

I sincerely hope Sydney will have his 7 -10 days sick leave.  Hurrah & I hope he will have another good time, and let every day, as it comes & goes, be blessed, & then Hurrah he might be in England for such length of time as to have leave & see you again & again.

Am I superstitious? Really, you don’t say so, – never mind.

I am always your loving brother,


PS  Patients are directed NOT to have their parcels & letters addressed to them at this Hospital, so I advise you not to take the risk Sydney did. Wait till I get back to the Batt.


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.


28th Dec. Company & Battalion Training continued (in preparation for Eastern Front).


Signed: R.R. RAYMER Lt  Col. Cmdg 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt.



This Letter is interesting in the evidence it gives of a Christmas Truce in 1915 (as well as Christmas 1914) when the enemy came over to ‘shake hands’ and ‘to play their band’. 

In the loneliness of Christmas 1915, Pte Bertie Hibbett’s belief in Providence, the presence of angels, protection of saints and answers to prayers, and the comfort he receives from dreams and coincidences, is clearly becoming stronger. It was a search for meaning in the face of death that he appears to have shared with many soldiers in WW1. 

(1) CensorJ.C.Fitzgerald*. Army Chaplain. Pte Bertie met him again when training for the Anglican Ministry at Lichfield Theological College, 1918+. (2) The Innocents’ Day: commemoration of Massacre of Male Infants by Herod the Great. Mtt. 2.16. cf Letter 24th Dec. 1915.

£2 Coinimages
WW1 Centenary £2 Coin.

(3) Edith Cavell : British nurse during First World War/ saved lives of soldiers from both sides/ arrested for helping 200 allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium/ court-martialled, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death/shot by firing squad, 12th Oct. 1915. Worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. Notes from Edith Cavell Trust website. See also Page: Christmas Truce 1915.

E Cavell bbcimages
Edith Cavell: Raymond Lind. Norwich Castle Museum.

Full Quotation reads: I have no fear nor shrinking. I have seen death so often that it is not strange or fearful to me. This I would say, standing as I do in view of God and eternity I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”

Cavell Monument. Brussels.
Cavell Monument with angel. Brussels.

(4) ‘Transmission of the Mind’. Not easy (without sight of article) to understand what my father meant. In Zen Buddhism the term refers to a ‘flash of insight’/intuitive rather than rational. Here however he seems to be talking more about telepathy and transference of thought from one person to another through dreams. cf Note on The London Magazine. Letter 26th Aug. 1915.

Nurse Cavell with multinational student nurses in Brussels. WW1.
Nurse Cavell centre, with multinational student nurses in Brussels. WW1.

(5) ‘Communion of Saints: Apostles’ Creed. Evening Prayer. Book of Common Prayer. 1662. 

 (6) Collect St Stephen’s Day: ‘to love and bless our persecutorsBook of Common Prayer 1662. Letter 26th Dec 1915.

NEXT POST:  30th Dec. 1915.



Bertie in UniformPte BERTIE  HIBBETT, Merville Casualty Clearing Station, North France: LETTER to Mother, Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd Walsall.

Christmas Eve  1915

Bless you my Mother.  Bless you my Father. Bless you my Sister. Bless you my Brother.

My Very Dear Mother & all of you,

I have just come from a very pleasant little service in the Chapel.  Our C. of E. Chaplain came round rallying us all to go to the service on the Eve of Christmas & how they all flocked down the stairs & through the Cloisters – & the little Chapel, no larger than the Lady Chapel at St Paul’s (1) was crowded.

We all sangWhile shepherds watched their flocks by night’ (2).  I doubt not that everyone was thinking of their Home, his dear Father & Mother, & if they had any brothers and  a sister like me.  The Chaplain himself said we shall all be thinking of our relatives & friends, no matter how far away with foreign countries between & the deep & the spacious ocean too, in spite of that our hearts will be as near as if we were with you. 

Yes dear Mummy, you & Dad an all of you are as close to me & my heart is as warm towards you as if you were as plain as my comrade on the next stretcher here to me.

liveauction coins op13715740_1_lMum, although I have no pleasures of Home with you, I have had a very pleasant afternoon & Eve.  We have had a gramophone on this afternoon & one record touched ours hearts so much we had it on again.  The records are double sided, as you know, & one record had two songs about ‘Mother’  – ‘When did you write to Mother last?’ &Break the news to Mother’ (3) It was the first one we were so taken by. 

Coin-activated Gramophone c 1915. <www.liveauctioneers.com>

We have a table in the centre of the room (which is now crammed with decorations) & a red blanket serves well for a table cloth.  Well there I sat at this table with my head between my hands, resting my chin on the palm of my hands & I listened as the words sang  ‘Just think of all the things she did for youand then the other song –  ‘There’s not another Can take the place of Mother. Then say to her how I love her And break the news to Mother’.

Then we had the other records dealing with Christmas, but they did not get an encore like the songs of Mother did.

Yes, we have books to read & I was admiring a picture in The Graphic (4) ofAn Ideal Christmas’.  ‘The return of the First Born from the Field of BattleThere in the firelight was the eldest son with his two little brothers eagerly listening to his adventures, the Father was on the sofa with his head turned from his paper to his eldest boy, & Mother too, whilst his eldest sister had stopped playing at the piano.

How do you like the picture I sent you on Thursday?  I did not know who to send it to, but whenever I see anything beautiful I think of those at Home & think they will appreciate it more than anyone else. 

So Mum, I believe I am not wrong in guessing that it will be Ida’s Birthday on the 28th & I believe it is Innocents’ Day then (5).  Sorry I cannot find anything so far to send her, but if you wish you can give her that picture, Ida being a lover of pictures, and say that it is a present from Mum & me.

Yes, I shall be thinking of you tomorrowThe Day, the Birthday of Our Lord early in the morning at 6.45 am at Holy Communion – & very likely Sydney will too.  The Chaplain sais there will be dinner for all the patients at 1 pm & Father Christmas will visit the wards atBlind Man’s Holiday’ (6) i.e. 4 pm so we shall have a bit of Christmas out here.

 Part the Second.

I shall put up my stocking for fun tonight.  The Chaplain comes round with cigarettes every night when we are about to go to sleep.

St Benedict. AD 481-543.
St Benedict. AD 481-543.

Goodnight to you dear Mum & all of you, may you have a sound good sleep, St Benedict (7) to keep away the evil goblins and a happy, a very happy awakening on the morning of Christmas Day –  heralded by a carol – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ (8) . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I will leave my letter to finish tomorrow.


South Staffordshire Badgee1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.

ISBERQUES: 20th-24th Dec.1915Platoon & Company Training.



A poignant picture here of Pte Bertie Hibbett thinking of Christmas at Home in Walsall (note service at 6.45 am!), making decorations and head in hands listening to gramophone songs about ‘Mother’ with other young patients.

(1) The Lady Chapel remains as my father would have remembered it, with its intricate domed-ceiling of inlaid-veneer. The rest of St Paul’s was wonderfully transformed in 1994 -1995; now called The Crossing at St Paul’s (a Christian Centre for Social Justice & Place of Worship) it serves the industrial & commercial centre of Walsall , the Old Butts & the Chuckery.  See Hibbett Letter: 26th Aug. 1914 for further details.

(2) While Shepherds watched. Carol Text based on Luke 2.8-14 by Nahum Tate 1652-1715 (Irish Hymnist/Poet Laureate to Queen Anne. Published by Tate & Nicholas Brady in ‘Supplement of New Version of Psalms of David.1696’ .  Music Old Winchester. The only Christian hymn authorised to be sung in Anglican Churches. (Before 1700 only Psalms could be sung).

(3)Break the News to Mother. Chorus: Just break the news to Mother, She knows how dear I love her, And tell her not to wait for me For I’m not coming home. Just say there is no other Can take the place of Mother, Then kiss her dear sweet lips for me, And break the news to her.  Tragic ballad of boy soldier who died ‘saving the flag‘ in Spanish-American War, when United States intervened in Cuban War of Independence. Treaty of Paris, 1898, marked the collapse of The Spanish Empire & allowed U.S. temporary control of Cuba. (NB Can find no reference to the first song).

(4) The Graphic: British weekly newspaper, published 4th Dec.1869, by William Lucas Thomson (Artist/ wood engraver/social reformer), angered by treatment of artists in The Illustrated London News.

Flavius Josephus.
Flavius Josephus.
Herod Great.search
Herod The Great. Died 4.BC

(5) Holy Innocents Day, 28th Dec. commemorates story of Massacre of the Innocents by Herod the Great (died 4.BC). Story is peculiar to Matthew 2.26, where Jesus is presented as the Jews’ Messiah and fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Not found in Flavius Josephus AD 37 -100 (Romano-Jewish scholar, historian & hagiographer).

6) Blind Man’s Holiday: time between daylight & candlelight (i.e 4.00 pm in December) when a partially sighted person could not be expected to work. cf Webster’s Dictionary. 

The Secret History of Hobgoblins. Ari Berk. 2013.

(7) St Benedict,  AD 480- 543. ItalianPatron Saint of Europe. Called ‘The Founder of Western Monasticism’.  The Rule of St Benedict was renowned for its ‘spirit of balance & reasonableness’ & adopted by many religious foundations. Can find no specific connection with hobgoblins (mischievous imps, spirits, bogies, evil trolls, traditionally associated with Halloween & Christmas Eve).

William Hayman Cummings.

(8Hark the Herald Angels Sing.1739. Text: Charles Wesley, (brother of John Wesley founder of Methodism) , adapted by George Whitfield. Music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1809-1847, adapted by William Hayman Cummings 1831-1915 (English musician, tenor & organist at Waltham Abbey. Chorister under Mendelssohn’s baton.

NEXT POSTS:  25th, 26th,  28th, 30th, 31st Dec. 1915 will be published as soon as possible.